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article imageAre secret agents using LinkedIn to get information?

By Tim Sandle     Jun 13, 2019 in Technology
LinkedIn is the professional networking site where people go to network, join discussion groups or look for jobs. It also seems to contain a hot-bed of spies, seeking data.
Spying in the modern sense has moved on from a person in a raincoat on a street corner holding up a newspaper to their face and undertaking covert observances. Spies of today are more likely to deal in obtaining valuable data. Even everyday information, such as social media databases, potentially include information about millions of people. One place to head for in to obtain critical business data is LinkedIn, given the high numbers of senior executives who use the social networking site.
A new report suggests there is evidence of spies lurking on LinkedIn. Vanity Fair unearthed evidence that China was using LinkedIn to obtain data as well as making an attempt to recruit new spies. The techniques are varied, and one such method is with the use of fake identities. Security specialists suggest they have come across at least one instance where a spy used an artificial intelligence generated face to connect with targets.
The fake profile was for a 'Katie Jones'. The computer-generated profile was for a 30-something woman who worked for a public policy think tank. 'Katie' appears as a go-to person for access a wide network of pundits and experts, ranging from the centrist Brookings Institution to the right-wing Heritage Foundation. She also appeared to connected to several senior U.S politicians.
Part of the evidence that the profile of Jones was a fake came from an analysis of the image. This was undertaken by Mario Klingemann, a German artist who has been experimenting for years with artificially-generated portraits, according to Gizmodo. The image seems to have been generated by a generative adversarial network (a class of machine learning system). This technique can easily generate a fake face, as demonstrated by the popularity of websites such as
According to William Evanina, director of the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center, quoted by The Verge: “Instead of dispatching spies to some parking garage in the U.S. to recruit a target, it’s more efficient to sit behind a computer in Shanghai and send out friend requests to 30,000 targets.”
While the Katie Jones profile has since been deleted, the question remains: are there are other fake profiles out there seeking to extract key information or to seek connections for more nefarious purposes?
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